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  • This film is very well crafted for an early talkie from 1930. Unlike so many stage-locked productions of this time, the film takes advantage of the rustic California settings of old California. There are few long static takes with people standing around the hidden microphone. Beautifully photographed, the shots change often and the camera movement is fluid throughout. (Makes you wonder what director Tod Browning's excuse was for painfully static "Dracua".) The outside scenes start the film out at a good pace. However, once the obligatory and talky love story kicks in, the story slows down to a crawl. Perhaps as off-putting is the poor quality of the print being shown on TMC. "The Lash" has clearly not been restored or cleaned, pock-marked throughout and with such deep contrast that some scenes are tough to make out. Towards the end of each reel, the film noise is so loud it almost drowns out dialog and music. This would be a film for a fan of early talkies to check out, but otherwise, it might be a tough go.
  • ...although the setting is California after the Mexican American War. Barthelmess plays Don Francisco Delfina, a Spanish nobleman of old California who finds himself considered a peon by the conquering Americans in spite of his education and refined manners. When he is sent by his uncle to deliver 3000 head of cattle to American Peter Harkness in San Francisco, Don's attention to a senorita that Harkness considers his girl gets him tied to a post and whipped, something that is only stopped by the sheriff of the territory. "The lash" though physically not that harmful in this case, leaves an emotional scar of humiliation on proud Don Francisco. In retaliation he delivers the cattle to Harkness by setting them loose to stampede the town that received him so poorly and then becomes a bandit, robbing the gringos of their ill-gotten gains and giving to the poor Mexicans of California in return.

    The acting is transitional. Stars that were accustomed to the silents such as Mary Astor and Richard Barthelmess still talk in that halting speech pattern so typical of the silent stars in the process of transition. Lesser known stars, recruited from stage to screen, talk more naturally. Even though the sound mix is Vitaphone, which usually required a static indoor environment, there are quite a few outdoor scenes and all involve quite a bit of camera motion, so this is not your typical static over-talkie talkie.

    There is one humorous scene in which Don Francisco's sister is explaining the origin of the term "gringo" to her suitor, an American. She comes up with some story about a song American soldiers sang with the words "the green goes over the flag" or something similar. There have been other folk etymologies that have the origin being other American songs such as "Green Grow the Lilacs". However, since the term dates back to the eighteenth century, more than likely gringo just means someone who speaks unintelligibly - someone speaking Greek - which is how the Spanish saw those who spoke English.

    This is an early talkie worthy of your time if you are a fan of Richard Barthelmess or are interested in early sound films. It is one of the better early efforts at drama during the year 1930 by Warner Brothers, which was still a struggling up-and-coming studio at the time.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    An interesting 1846 California "western" pitting the protagonist Richard Barthelmess, playing a young Francisco Delfino (Pancho) later the outlaw El Puma, against unscrupulous American land grabbers. Pancho returns from studies in Mexico City to find California invaded by "gringos" who impose their culture and use every trick in the book to obtain the land that was once given to loyal families by the King of Spain. Pancho is welcomed home by his Uncle (Tio) Don Mariano Delfino, played by Robert Edeson, Pancho's beautiful sister Doña Dolores Delfino, played by Marian Nixon, and a childhood sweetheart Doña Rosita Garcia, played by Mary Astor.

    Pancho travels north to deliver 3,000 cattle is treated as a second class citizen in his own native land. He reacts violently against the worst of the land commissioners and head man in Spanish Gulch, Peter Harkness, played by Fred Kohler, when Pancho dares to buy a drink for Harkness' favorite barmaid. Pancho is beaten with a belt but is saved by the sheriff, Captain David Howard, played by James Rennie.

    After his beating, Pancho delivers the cattle to Harkness in the form of a stampede through the village of Spanish Gulch. Pancho takes the money Harkness was to deliver in payment and sets off on a life as El Puma, patterned on Robin Hood or Zorro, robbing from the gringos and giving the money to the Church to feed the poor. Captain Howard arrives at the Delfino ranch and falls in love with Dolores. He also explains the derivation of the word "gringo". The latter is supposed to be based upon words sung by US soldiers who carried a green flag into battle during the Mexican war of 1846-1848 – "the green goes over the hill" – implying carrying the flag up against opposition. I did not find that derivation listed in a Google search which is why I have included it here.

    Pancho's uncle is shot by Harkness and in his dying breath; Tio Mariano tells his nephew that his efforts are turning more Americans against the native Californians. Pancho disbands his gang, shoots Harkness, and delivers the original land grant to Captain Howard for safekeeping. Pancho escapes overland to Mexico where he weds his beloved Rosita and sends a letter to Captain Howard and Dolores telling them there is nothing preventing them from being wed.

    The plot is based on the story, "Adiós," by Lanier and Virginia Stivers Bartlett. It is not at all clear where the title comes from since Pancho is neither beaten by the lash or uses one in his escapades. The print shown on TCM is in poor quality but this interesting story with Americans as the "bad guys" is worth watching. Recommended.
  • Though Richard Barthelmess gives a good account of himself as Hispanic Californio post Mexican War, I wonder why someone like Gilbert Roland was not cast in the part. He would have been perfect in The Lash.

    The Lash has Richard Barthelmess returning home to his California ranch after service in the Mexican army during the war. All is not well at his place as some of the Americans are proving to be ruthless conquerors. One who especially fits that bill is Fred Kohler, a very greedy and crooked land commissioner.

    After a few indignities at the hands of the Americans, Barthelmess turns to outlawry and takes up the name of El Puma. Essentially he's Zorro without the mask. And he's won the heart with his dashing derring-do of Senorita Mary Astor.

    On the minus side he's causing a lot of conflict for his sister Marian Nixon and James Rennie who is the new American sheriff, but an honest one.

    Barthelmess was still a bit uneasy before the sound camera and it certainly would have been a better film had someone of Latino background been cast. But on balance The Lash is good entertainment.

    Though a pair of non-Latinos like Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power were waiting in the future for these kind of roles.
  • wes-connors17 March 2014
    Sometime after Mexico lost California to the US in 1846, Mexican student Richard Barthelmess (as Francisco "Pancho" Delfino) returns home to his Southern California estate. Although his side lost the war, Mr. Barthelmess is optimistic because the US is allowing Spaniards to keep their land. His attitude changes when Barthelmess discovers Americans gringos are trying to swindle his family out of their wealth. To level the playing field, Barthelmess becomes the bandit "El Puma!" The character is patterned after "Zorro!" and "Robin Hood". Barthelmess appears silly playing a young student from Mexico, especially when he utters Spanish expressions. "The Lash" is an early sound film – the silent film medium accommodated ethnic crossovers nicely (Barthelmess in "Broken Blossoms") and the stage could be even friendlier (Mary Martin as "Peter Pan"). Still, Barthelmess should have known better; his effortless accent shows he probably did...

    Others in the cast benefit by not being the lead...

    Barthelmess' love-interest is lightly-accented senorita Mary Astor (as Rosita Garcia). Side-kick Arthur Stone (as Juan) looks the part, at least. As the American sheriff, James Rennie (married to Dorothy Gish) best illustrates the unsteady silent-to-sound crossover; his hat and make-up make him look like an old silent screen serial villain, but he's playing a good guy. Little sister Marian Nixon (as Dolores) is the second female lead, but Barbara Bedford (as Lupe) gets the best feminine role. Veteran actors Fred Kohler, Robert Edeson and Erville Alderson are worth seeing. For the time, this was a fine supporting cast and top production. At the time, Barthelmess and director Frank Lloyd were "Academy Award" and audience favorites. Direction by Mr. Lloyd is skillful, traveling well around complicated sets. Unfortunately, editing and speeded-up visuals make the big action sequence, occurring after about 30 minutes of running time, look less than spectacular.

    **** The Lash (12/20/30) Frank Lloyd ~ Richard Barthelmess, Mary Astor, James Rennie, Marian Nixon
  • When you watch some films from the early talkie period you have to realize that film was in a transitional period. Of course, not all films from this period need that caveat: look at the wonderful films like "All Quiet on the Western Front", "Animal Crackers", "Disraeli", "The Big House", etc. Unfortunately, "The Lash" requires the caveat. It's OK considering the time when it was made.

    The film's star is Richard Barthlemess (1895-1963) who was a major silent film star but failed to make the transition due to his acting style, which is well illustrated here. Director Frank Lloyd (1886-1960) who was a major figure in the 30s, seems to be on holiday here. Llolyd was nominated for an Oscar 4 times and won for "The Divine Lady" (1929) and "Cavalcade" (1933). Among his notable films are "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935), "Blood on the Sun" (1945), and my favorite Jim Bowie biography "The Last Command" (1955). But here his considerable skills are not on display.

    I think the problem was wider spread than this film. Westerns did poorly for many years, and only found their depth in the 40s and 50s.
  • Richard Barthelmess was a fine and rather diminutive actor....but not appropriate for this film. After all, he's supposed to play a Hispanic man and seems about as Hispanic as Chop Suey! Now I am not saying the part could not have been played competently by an Anglo actor--heck, Warner Baxter very ably played The Cisco Kid during this era. But with no accent and very waspy boy next door looks and manners, Barthelmess is simply wrong for such a part. The same is true of many of the supporting cast as well, such as the Mexican-American ladies played by Mary Astor and Marian Nixon! Why they didn't employ Mexican actors is a puzzler...as well as why they didn't even try to make these folks seem Mexican.

    The film begins soon after the Mexicans were forced to cede California to the United States after the Mexican War. Pancho has been off to school in Mexico City and he's returning to his family ranch in California when he's introduced to the prejudices the Americans have for their new Mexican-American brothers and sisters. For instance, in one town speaking Spanish is banned...which shouldn't pose any problem to Pancho (I think speaking Spanish would have been a much bigger problem for him)! Soon, a local thug is beating up Pancho and some other poor sap...simply because they are Mexican by birth. Eventually, the mistreatment becomes so bad that Pancho decides to become a Zorro-like hero named 'El Puma' and delivers justice to those jerks! What does he do and where does it all go? See the film and find out for yourself.

    This film looks and sounds very dated. Despite some really nice sets (including a nice looking replica of el Bosque de Chapultapec at the end of the film), the entire production is dull, stagy and the dialog is amazingly old fashioned. Because of this, the love scenes come off (unintentionally) as comedy and the entire film is a chore to watch. The poor print sure didn't help but is the least of the film's problems.